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Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution Hardcover – April 3, 2018
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
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“Affectionate and richly researched. . . . Something Wonderful offers a fresh look at the milieu and circumstances that contributed to the creation of some of the musical theater’s greatest and most enduring treasures. . . . In giving us access to the world that gave birth to them, Purdum’s authoritative and ultimately moving book brings these masterpieces to life with bracing clarity.”―The New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)
"A veteran political reporter, Purdum goes moonlighting to delightful effect in Something Wonderful. His journalistic skills are evident in this affectionate tribute to the team that rewrote the rules for American musical theater. Something Wonderful is thoroughly researched and briskly written, seamlessly blending a chronological narrative of the productions with cogent analyses of their effect on American culture."―The Washington Post
"Todd Purdum’s skillful dual biography…strips away the accretions of time and reputation to retrieve the craft and dynamism with which his subjects created a new kind of musical."―The Economist
"A revelatory portrait. . . detailed and sharp."―Time
“Fresh. . . . A neatly proportioned study . . . perhaps most helpful [in] reminding us of the bold breadth of the business―in the broadest sense―of the Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership” [whose] “melodies . . . ventured sprawlingly across the planet, all day and deep into the night.” ―The Wall Street Journal, lead review
"Purdum is a lifelong fan of musical theater, and that passion shows in 400 pages that fly by in double-time. . . . [He] has a gift for scene painting, making us feel like we’re in the room when some of the most memorable moments in musical theater history take place. . . . Such a pleasure to read."―DC Metro Theater Arts
"[A] delightful new book. . . . Broadway magic if anything is, and Todd Purdum has given readers the most elaborate and entertaining exploration of that magic they're ever likely to read."―The Christian Science Monitor
"A fresh and revelatory look at the personalities of these legendary figures, their relationship with each other, their creative process, and their groundbreaking innovations....Full of illuminating anecdotes about the biggest stars of the day....A celebration of the lives and legacy of one of the most iconic partnerships in artistic history, sure to please anyone who loves musical theater." ―Broadway World
"This brisk and lively biography of the greatest team in musical-theater history remains happily focused on what matters most: the shows. . . . A solid, affectionate description of artists who look more important today than at any time since, oh, 1945."―BroadwayDirect.com
"Unapologetic in its appreciation of the team's talents but inclusive enough to consider their darker moments as well."―Dallas News
"Readers will learn the stories behind the music and how this most successful of writing duos crafted some of the finest musicals to grace the American stage...Something wonderful, indeed." ―Booklist (starred review)
"Joyous, brisk, and gossipy...An exuberant celebration of musical genius." ―Kirkus Reviews
"Purdum’s anecdote-filled account is a sterling primer on the influential duo, both for newcomers to their work and to those looking to rekindle an old flame." ―Publishers Weekly
“A scrupulously researched and infinitely fascinating history of the collaboration of Rodgers & Hammerstein―two giants who propelled the musical theater to uncharted heights. Todd Purdum acknowledges the contribution of directors, orchestrators, composers of incidental music, designers, and performers who helped produce the seamless integration that influenced those of us who were their disciples. His book is a fair-minded appreciation of these gods but acknowledges that they had feet of clay. It is an impressive addition to the literature celebrating the American musical theater.” ―Harold Prince
“Rodgers and Hammerstein drew pictures, made lists. They understood and rewrote the longings of the heart. My favorite of their songs happens to be the book’s title: ‘Something Wonderful.’ I have sung it live, on stage, on recordings, and with the man I felt the same way about. I love the intimacy of the stories Todd Purdum tells―he shows himself to be especially sensitive to Oscar Hammerstein’s special connection with Richard Rodgers.” ―Carly Simon
“Before there was Netflix and Hulu, some of the most gifted writers on the cultural landscape wrote beautiful and clever songs. And of the composers who bundled those songs together to accompany a story and thus gave us the Broadway musical, none have had more of an impact on the genre, or the business, than Rodgers and Hammerstein. Todd Purdum’s book is a piece of American history you should devour, as nothing tells us about our times and ourselves quite like our songs.” ―Alec Baldwin
"Engaging. . . . A lively, sometimes gossipy narrative."―Forward
“A reminder in these tribalized times that musical theater, once so central to our culture, is still vividly alive – and that the art’s twin titans, Rodgers and Hammerstein, still matter deeply. Clear, precise, and passionate, this is a necessary book, and even better, one that is a joy to read.” ―James Kaplan, author of Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman
“Come backstage...It's all here in Purdum's book. From describing the real-life moment that inspired 'Some Enchanted Evening' to detailing the drafts for 'Edelweiss,' Purdum has produced Something Wonderful indeed.”―BookPage
About the Author
Todd S. Purdum is the author of An Idea Whose Time Has Come and A Time of Our Choosing. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a senior writer at Politico, having previously worked at The New York Times for more than twenty years, where he served as White House correspondent, diplomatic correspondent, and Los Angeles bureau chief. A graduate of Princeton University, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Dee Dee Myers, and their two children, Kate and Stephen.
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Elliott Norton observed, "When you mention Rodgers and Hammerstein to almost any normal American with a sound heart and good hearing, he thinks at once of songs and scenes and shows which they have written--and which have given him great and abiding pleasure." So it was and so it may always be. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals have become such a part of pop culture fabric, they are almost taken for granted. They never should be.
Purdum doesn't knock Rodgers and Hammerstein off their musical theatre pedestals. He does not want to. Ethan Mordden effectively did that in his scholarly, heavily illustrated, coffee table book. Purdue's book is much more fair and much more fun to read. And it's because Purdum writes from a human perspective. It turns out, these Masters Of Musical Theatre were mere mortals after all. They were astonishingly talented, creative, driven, ambitious men, complete with flaws and all. It really doesn't matter that they were geniuses of their craft. Without their humanity, their flaws, and their simple, honest sincerity, the public never would have responded to their shows at all.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II met each other long before their partnership, and each began to sew the seeds of their Broadway revolution with other partners. Hammerstein was literally born into the theatre. Rodgers was a musical prodigy from a cold, emotionally distant and abusive home. That coldness became part of Rodgers' nature. Hammerstein wrote Broadway's first really serious musical "Show Boat" with Jerome Kern in 1927. After "Rose Marie", Hammerstein had nothing but flops, spent several unproductive years in Hollywood, and suffered a nervous breakdown due to his turbulent personal life. Rodgers had nothing but hit after hit with his other Big "H" partner Lorenz Hart from the mid 1920's throughout the 1930's. Their 1940 musical "Pal Joey" was more worldly and sophisticated than anything Broadway had seen before. But Hart was a genius who was hell-bent on self-destruction, and he did exactly that. Rodgers couldn't take it anymore and Hammerstein needed a hit.
The success of "Oklahoma!" was never predestined or a safe bet. But Purdum brings into sharp focus how Rodgers and Hammerstein came together at exactly the right time and, combining their years of theatrical experience, created "Oklahoma!", a musical that America not only needed by 1943, but also wholeheartedly embraced. Their next musical "Carousel" was even more risky. "Oklahoma!" was essentially about a picnic-party. "Carousel" was about life, death, spousal abuse, poverty, suicide, and a few other things in between. "Carousel", their darkest musical with their richest, most operatic score, remains their most problematic-- but somehow they pulled it off.
Purdum celebrates their deserved successes and is fair minded about their Broadway flops ("Allegro", "Me And Juliet" and "Pipe Dream") and their personal flaws and failings. At some point, they stopped being Richard Rodgers, composer, and Oscar Hammerstein II, lyricist and librettist, and became trapped victims of their own success. This is, after all, a story of show business, and R & H became a business-- an entertainment empire, really. R & H were business men. Rather stingy business men who had prickly relationships with talented people in the R & H business. Purdum finally gives orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett, music arranger Trude Rittmann and scenic designer Jo Milzner their long overdue credits. Playwright and director Josh Logan was treated worst of all. Logan wrote the book to the masterpiece "South Pacific" with Hammerstein in bursts of inspired and manic creativity. Logan received co-author and director credit , but was cheated out of royalties. Hammerstein attempted to correct things by asking Logan to direct "The King And I." Wounded by his "South Pacific" experience, Logan refused. But Logan remained, by choice, a close friend in Hammerstein's circle. Hammerstein poured out his frustrations about Rodgers to Logan, and asked him for advice on shows. Hammerstein ignored Logan's advice on how to improve "Allegro", and it flopped. He took Logan's advice on how to make "The King And I" more warm and entertaining, and it was a huge hit.
As far as knowing what stories to musicalize and how, Rodgers And Hammerstein were indeed ONE with a great track record of success and a few flops. As men and "friends", they hardly knew each other at all. Interestingly, R & H were both married to women named Dorothy. Both Dorothy R and Dorothy H were interior designers. And they didn't like each other, either. They kept up a cool if distant facade, however.
By the mid-1950's, a coolness came into the R & H relationship that lasted until the end. After writing a bubbly and unpretentious score for "Cinderella" for CBS TV in 1957, Rodgers suffered a severe depression (nervous breakdown) and his first battle with cancer. R & H had one more "lucky hit" in them, "Flower Drum Song", which is seldom staged today. Mary Martin, the star of "South Pacific", brought "The Sound Of Music" to R & H. When rehearsals began, Hammerstein was diagnosed with cancer. If cancer had not killed him, critical response to "The Sound Of Music" might have. One critic said the show was too sweet for words and music. Hammerstein died in 1960, and "The Sound Of Music" became R & H's most popular "popular success."
After great success and an entertainment empire, it became fashionable to knock the R & H empire and everything in it down. After Hammerstein's death, the critical elite dismissed R & H shows as conventional, pandering, condescending, and worst of all, childish. Purdum ponders how and why R & H fell into critical disfavor. It actually happened a few years before Hammerstein's death, and Purdum says the middlebrow movie versions of "Oklahoma!", "Carousel, and "South Pacific", which muted the innovations in the shows and maximized the schmaltz, do not help at all. "The King And I", with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, is the best R & H movie adaptation, and "The Sound Of Music" starring Julie Andrews is the biggest R & H movie mega-hit. The modest Julie Andrews seems to be at a loss to explain to Purdum why "The Sound Of" Movie remains such a wildly popular success. Purdum feels that the major R & H hit shows are not bad at all, but for many years, productions and the packaging of them, were terrible. Recent productions of "Carousel" and "South Pacific" sparked a major R & H re-evaluation. I am sure readers will agree with Purdum that the R & H revolution was something wonderful indeed, and their shows are still relevant and worthy of serious discussion and artistic appreciation.
master music-makers..our gratitude to him and his hard work for making our hearts sing again